Last weekend, I was in Mexico during the #BETAwards relying only on my FB timeline for updates on who wore it, who said it, and who performed it. After a few clicks of the refresh button, I began to see more and more mentions of #activistbae Jessie Williams. Now, I’ve seen and heard Mr. Williams speak candidly about the social inequities and racial injustice faced by many in these United States but apparently he was opening eyes and minds during his Humanitarian Awards acceptance speech. Within 24 hours of his speech being televised, the web was abuzz, he was trending, and several articles were written about the power and brilliance of his words.
Over the past day or so, I’ve been digesting his call and collecting my thoughts. I’ve ignored several articles and posts riddled with insincerity as they have only a single intent of diluting his passion and erasing his voice. Ain’t nobody got time for that. While I’ve been processing and pondering though, I’ve been living. I’ve been talking to people about his sentiment, our lives, and our challenges. I’ve also been talking to girlfriends about the same topics. However, there’s an extra layer that Jessie mentioned but doesn’t often get much airtime–the conditional freedom imposed on women, namely, Black women. Speaking with women about their relationships always intrigues me. We tend to suffer many of the same struggles, sometimes silently and sometimes transparently. Long before Sunday’s award show, we were all experiencing life as women – free women- yet through relationships with some men, forced to rethink that description. I believe Jessie understood this struggle but I’m not certain all guys do.
There is this notion that although I’m allowed to “be” free, I’m expected not to “behave” as a free person. As a woman, I’m supposed to be quiet, be submissive, be less combative, be more agreeable, be demure, be cheerful and upbeat even when I feel heavy-hearted and sad, be less articulate about my point so as not to embarrass or emasculate a man, be less confident in my ideas so as not to appear too boastful or arrogant, be feminine, be vulnerable, be comfortable in my ‘place’, be less pushy, be told how to manage my body, be okay soothing a man’s hurt while sacrificing mine, be a source of love and kindness even in the face of disrespect, and be gracious accepting every expectation of me as a woman.
I must always be #woke while some around me sleepwalk.
As a Black woman, I’m held to an even higher standard of expectations. I’m asked to tolerate the intolerable, practice patience in times when my thoughts and feelings are shown no regard, and accept the subpar attempts and inconsiderate actions of others simply because it makes them feel better. I say, if you have no record of speaking up for women’s rights, be quiet. If you have no history of standing up for anyone’s equality, have a seat.
To paraphrase #JesseWilliams, it is not the job of the marginalized to make the oppressor feel better. It is not a woman’s job to make men feel less privileged as men (even Black ones). It is not a Black person’s role to make non-Blacks feel better about the systemic issues that hold our communities hostage daily. I am not required to apologize and hold my tongue and play a role simply because your ego or emotional maturity isn’t accustomed to the sound of a free voice. Stop telling me I’m free if your mindset, attitude, and words don’t support my ability to walk around as a free being. Why must my freedom come with boundaries? Why is my freedom limited by gender or race? Why is the sound of my free voice so damaging to your privileged ears? Why do the men in my (race) corner sometimes sound like the same oppressor we’ve both been fighting against? Why can’t I be everything I am, and not shoulder the responsibility of being everything you’ve decided me to be?
My mistake, I guess that’s the difference between being free and acting free.